A winter storm that left residents in Catron County without electricity for several days triggered the county to declare a disaster; yet also showed the true character of the community.

“We came together in that pioneer spirit, that’s for sure, and that’s one of the reasons why many of us live in Catron County,” Loren Cushman, Catron County Manager, said. “I would like to personally thank all the people who volunteered.”

Socorro Electric Co-op director of communications, Jerrid Williams, said the areas affected included Datil, Quemado, Quemado Lake and Fence Lake, which were out of power ranging from 65 to 86 hours. Pie Town was out of power for about 14 hours.

“It’s hard to gauge exactly how long people were without power because it was a domino effect caused by several weather events,” Williams said.

Williams said around 3 p.m. on Friday, March 15, it started to rain heavily in the area and when the temperature dropped below freezing it caused the water on the power lines to freeze the lines.

The heavy snow that followed caused the lines to be weighted down. At around 11:40 p.m. the power poles and cross arms started breaking and the power lines went down.

“Our crews were dispatched; however, the areas that the poles were broken were inaccessible due to the icy and unsafe road conditions,” Williams said. “The county crews didn’t start plowing until Monday morning. Once we were able to gain access to any of the areas, the mud was so deep that our trucks were unable to pass through the off-road areas without specialized track equipment,” William said.

Williams said about 30 to 35 poles were affected in the area.

With the help of sister co-ops Navopache Electric Co-op, Otero County Co-op and T&D services, they were able to dispatch crews with specialized track equipment to get the power restored. On March 19 at 8:19 p.m. Socorro Electric announced that all areas affected were energized.

Catron County Emergency director, Dusty Choate, said that the power outage began early March 15, and the county declared a disaster on March 18 at 10:10 a.m.

“The board of commissioners acted appropriately and approved it, and we were able to get assistance in from the Roadrunner Food Bank, as well as another food bank, to provide food so we could start cooking meals for those individuals affected,” Choate said. “The main concern that we had was because it was such an extensive outage, and the terrain did not really help with Socorro Electric getting access to some of the poles. It was expected to be an extended outage for maybe up to two weeks. So, we decided to declare a disaster due to people having electricity to run their water wells and having running water or their refrigerators and freezers.”

With students on spring break, they were able to utilize the Quemado School Gym as a shelter and offered hot food, bottled water and showers.

Choate said he is still working with New Mexico Homeland Security and emergency management on the recovery phase. Their goal is to get food to people who lost theirs in the outage and they will keep the disaster declaration open “until we know that individuals are taken care of.”

“Socorro Electric has said the power has been restored; however, there may be a couple legs off the line that go to individual houses that they might have missed, but we really don’t’ know until they finish their mop up and survey everything. But the main power lines have been restored with the possible exception of one or two,” Choate said.

Cushman and Choate said they were impressed with the community stepping up to help each other.

Volunteers, churches, the fire department, other counties, local representatives and the food banks came together to do welfare checks, deliver firewood, cook hot meals and aid residents.

Cindy Cook, president of the Catron Food Pantries said the county alerted her of declaration of a disaster and she was asked to set up emergency food centers in Fence Lake and Quemado. Cook got to work preparing and contacting Road Runner Food Pantry in Albuquerque.

She said they responded immediately with a semi-truck full of emergency rations and water. With the help of volunteers she set up emergency food centers at the Quemado Community Center, Quemado Senior Center and the Fence Lake Fire Department.

“There were over 110 families or more without electric, water and food,” Cook said “ We had help from several volunteers from the Datil food pantry and Quemado food pantry.”

“In the small communities that we live in here, we definitely look after each other and for everyone to step up the way they did is just amazing. And I appreciate what everyone has done looking out for their neighbor and offering meals and transportation; it shows a lot of what Catron County is about,” Choate said.

Donations to Catron Food Pantries can be mailed to P.O. box 3 Quemado, NM 87829.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated on March 22 at 9:30 a.m.